EngagedLeaderI have long appreciated the research and insights of Charlene Li and all who are connected with Altimeter Group. They have an excellent history of producing substantive content based on thorough industry research and presenting it effectively via print, webinars, conferences, etc. So it is no surprise that Li, the founder and CEO of Altimeter Group, has done this again with her latest book, The Engaged leader: A Strategy for Your Digital Transformation. Some of her previous books include Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform How You Lead and the best-selling Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed By Social Technologies, co-authored with Josh Bernoff.

In her latest book, The Engaged Leader, Li coaches leaders through developing a strategy for engaging with others digitally inside and outside the organizations they lead. This small paperback of barely 100 pages is filled with helpful examples from C-suites around the globe where leaders understand the importance of digital leadership – leaders who demonstrate willingness to transform their own behaviors in order to positively transform the organizations they lead.

The four brief but meaty chapters are:

  • Listen at Scale
  • Share to Shape
  • Engage to Transform
  • Transform the Organization

The author recognizes that not all leaders are at the same point in their digital transformation journey, and that such a journey may take a while – even years. She documents such journeys in her many examples. The transformation must occur if leaders and their organizations are to position themselves for future success. Through implementing three main actions – listen, share and engage – leaders have the opportunity to transform their leadership and their impact in a digitally connected world. Such transformation won’t happen automatically, even after reading this excellent book. There must be a plan. To that end, she provides a handy worksheet for download that the book uses throughout its chapters to build a sample plan for leader engagement in support of a leader’s and organization’s goals.

To mention just a bit of the chapters’ primary points, to listen at scale means to “listen with your eyes to many people all at once, anytime, and from anyplace” (p. 22). No longer must leaders rely only on a select group of direct reports through whom the content of information is filtered. Leaders can take advantage of the access they have through digital/social channels to actually hear from their audience directly (or at least from those who are doing the listening at scale). This further presents opportunities to build relationships with constituents and to demonstrate constancy in the listening process. Li presents suggestions on the art and science of listening, and she ends the listening chapter (as well as the share and engage chapters) with helpful questions to get started. Why listen? Listening at scale “enables leaders to determine what ideas, information, or actions will inspire followership” (p. 36).

Once listening, leaders can then share in strategic ways to shape relationships and the actions of followers. This leads to greater power and influence by the leader. Such sharing needs to be fast, frequent and informal – very different than the C-suite’s traditional methods of talking at people, infrequent reporting, and formal, polished sharing. Li provides tips on the art and science of sharing. She offers the wise caveat that “authenticity will always be in the eye of the beholder” (p. 53), and that leaders may have to develop even tougher skin than usual during the digital transformation journey as they learn new ways of communicating.

In the engage to transform chapter, Li states that “digital engagement is a complete paradigm shift” and that it “is still a stretch for most leaders because it alters how they feel about themselves and how they normally act and it changes their relationships with followers” (p. 59). She uses the terms distance, direction and frequency to explain the interrelated perspectives at play. Setting goals, choosing the right type of engagement and putting controls in place are some of the pieces of the engagement puzzle Li explains. (I have to admit I’m partial to this chapter since it is where my CEO at Humana, Bruce Broussard, is used as an example of an engaged leader via our employee’s enterprise social network, Buzz. Full disclosure: I was the contact for the author for the information included in this chapter regarding Broussard’s digital engagement inside our company.)

The potential impact of learning to listen, share and engage is that the leader has the best opportunity to transform the organization. Li relates the change process the leader may experience along the way as very similar to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, modifying them slightly into only four stages in this process: denial, bargaining, acceptance, and transformation. It is in this section where Li addresses the reality of middle management’s role (which is not always helpful) in such a transformation process, and how to bring them along in the right direction.

Don’t think that embarking on the journey necessarily involves mass quantities of time from leaders who are already extremely busy. Li suggests starting in week one with just ten minutes per day. In the book’s conclusion, she writes “so start slowly, but start now” (p. 94).

It is impossible for the reader of The Engaged Leader to be exposed to as many examples of leader engagement as this book provides without having numerous ideas spawned regarding ones own situation. Surely engaged leaders with an openness to personal digital transformation will have no shortage of takeaways to move forward in their own journey after reading the book. I highly recommend it not only for leaders but for others who are connected with leaders and for those who play some role in leader communications.

Transforming into a digitally engaged leader is a tremendous opportunity today. The reach and impact a leader can have via social channels is practically unlimited. A few rare leaders may be so inclined and skilled as to make the journey without the nudging and guidance of others, but most will need a helping hand to take the right path. This is where Charlene Li’s small but powerful, insightful, research-based book can make a huge difference. Get a copy and read it soon.

shutterstock_155104142[Note: I’m glad to have Jason Spencer co-author this post with me on the subject of starting an employee advocacy program. Jason is one of the excellent community managers I have the pleasure to work with on Humana’s Enterprise Social Media team. He and I started planning an advocacy program in December, 2014 and launched it in late May, 2015. We are thrilled with the early results and the prognosis for a very bright future for the program, so we thought we’d share our early experience with you. First, Jason will share his thoughts and then I’ll close out the article with some thoughts of my own.]

Here is what Jason writes on the subject…

We are all story tellers. Not only that, but we love hearing a good story. As brands, we have a story to tell, too. Our challenge is getting the attention of our consumers to hear our story. We also need to build trust with our consumers in order to be given the chance to have that conversation. Much like building real relationships, we have to build trust before we can try to sell anything or even talk about ourselves.

In comes employee advocacy. Employee advocacy is empowering and enabling your employees to tell your story as a brand. At Humana, we have a huge potential to activate our associates to tell our story of being a health and wellness brand. Humana as a company refers to its employees as associates and we are calling our program “Humana Advocates.”

While there are programs that allow for social selling from their employees, our regulated industry does not allow for that to happen. And, practically speaking, if our employees start harassing their friends and followers on social media to buy health insurance, they are going to lose their social clout very quickly. The story that we want to tell from our brand is that we want people to be healthier and to live a lifestyle focused on well-being. Our enterprise social strategy supports that and it makes it a lot easier for employees to share that story. The stories that we want shared from our advocates are mostly health and well-being focused with some company news and updates.

In order to be successful in using our associates to tell our brand story, first we needed a platform that would support the program. We met with several of the larger names that provide employee advocacy solutions. We spent time meeting with and reviewing Addvocate, Dynamic Signal, Everyone Social, GaggleAMP, PeopleLinx, SocialChorus and SocialToaster. Determining who we would go with was dependent on several things. The first criterion was that we needed a customized solution to be able to scale and grow with us as we developed the program. We also needed a mobile-first solution where we could put an app in the hands of our advocates for them to choose how they wanted to engage with us. We also wanted to give our advocates the ability to choose what social networks they were going to share to, when it was going to be shared and give them the ability to personalize the text they were posting. We also wanted to make a decision on a vendor whose products and services met our requirements today – not capabilities that were only on a roadmap for a future rollout. After doing our research, demoing the platforms on the short list, and observing how posts were shared, we decided to go with Dynamic Signal.

Jason Spencer

Jason Spencer

Once we had the platform and determined what we wanted shared, we needed employees to share our brand’s story. We wanted to begin the program with associates who were not only influencers but were excited about working for Humana and wanted to start sharing content. We decided to start with a small group of employees so that we could learn from their experience during a smaller scale “Phase One” period. We chose our first group of associates based on how active they were on both external social media and on our internal enterprise social network. We knew that hand-selecting associates who were influencers would give us an idea of what we could accomplish in the program. We launched this first group on May 29, 2015. Now that we have two full business weeks under our belt, we are now looking to the next phase of the program – opening it up to the enterprise and allowing other associates to join after the two-month Phase One completes.

In order to be a Humana Advocate, associates must attend a 1-hour training session. Since we are in a highly regulated industry, we decided that we wanted the program to only include associates (not customers) and we wanted them to fully understand our social media policy and how to fully support our social program. One of the goals of the program is to increase the knowledge and use of social media. Our enterprise social media team not only wants to teach how to be a part of the program, but also how to improve an individual’s skillset on social media. We want to teach how to engage with other people online and how to actually be social in the digital arena.

The next phase of the program is scaling to the enterprise. We know there are many more business cases for utilizing an employee advocacy program and we plan to fully utilize as many as makes sense in moving Humana forward. As we develop the program, we see opportunities to group associates together by lines of businesses, campaigns or specific markets, then feed content specifically to those groups based on what would be relevant for them. We also want to push content to advocates based on what they might be interested in sharing.

In order to understand how the program will be successful and achieve our objectives, we are measuring everything. Dynamic Signal gives us the ability to not only measure how many advocates are in the program but how many friends and followers they have on their social networks. We are then able to pull metrics on impressions the shared content is generating, clicks to the articles and our website and reactions from their social networks to the content they are sharing. Reactions are defined as native likes, comments and shares on their social networks. We are also able to gamify the program by awarding points to the advocates based on their activities in the platform and rank them by leaderboards.

For a brand to start an employee advocacy program, they need to determine how they want to be perceived on social media. They will then need to determine the objectives they are trying to achieve and how a platform will achieve those goals. Start with a small group of employees to engage with and use them to learn how to grow the program to the next level. Finally, the community manager for the program needs to create metrics on how the program is making a difference for the brand.

And now some thoughts from Jeff Ross…

A lot of planning went into the process of standing up this program. Jason and I started setting aside blocks of hours per day last December to talk through aspects of the program such as goals, training considerations, regulations and governance, how to bring in advocates, evaluating the major players among the several vendors in the field, implementing recognition and rewards, and setting out a timeline for launch. We presented our initial plans to the full Enterprise Social Media team at the end of December for feedback before committing to a vendor and pursuing the next stage of planning and pre-launch.

I want to sing the praises of the vendor we selected – Dynamic Signal – for several reasons, but mainly because they went out of their way to be helpful and provide us with even more than we asked for during the vendor selection process. They were quick to create a website, giving us full administrative access so we could kick the tires behind the scenes, and they provided a mobile app so we could easily test and compare the Web and mobile experiences. Once chosen, they provided a Basecamp with detailed lists, documents and plans to get us ready to launch, and they have met with us once or twice a week since January to guide us through the process. So not only were we most impressed with the product, but the service has been outstanding. It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of a great relationship with the vendor, and this has certainly been such a partnership.

Jason and I attended a SocialMedia.org members-only meeting in New York City the week before launching our advocacy program. It was great to hear what other major brands had already done or were considering in this area. It was also nice to walk away from that meeting convinced that we had done a very good job in our due diligence the previous five months preparing for launch. That added boost of confidence made the launch the following week even more exciting.

JeffRoss-4-377x377

Jeff Ross

With the first two weeks of phase one behind us, we have trained and invited about 50 participants. Most are sharing across several social channels daily, reaching people the brand would not reach directly without the advocates’ help. Most are customizing the posts to personalize them as we suggested they do (although we force a #HUMemployee hashtag on all posts to play it safe with the FTC). They are genuinely excited about spreading great content related to health and well-being, and their positivity is contagious. The results are already amazing us beyond what we expected, with week two alone seeing over 1000 shares and nearly 400,000 impressions.

Once our two-month first phase is complete, we’ll roll it out to the enterprise. We have a goal of having at least five percent of the associate population trained and engaged with the program by the end of 2017. Following the enterprise rollout (phase two), we’ll build on the organization of the program by utilizing the most engaged associates as captains of teams of 10-20 advocates each to keep the participation personal among small teams and to encourage a little friendly competition between teams.

Throughout our planning and execution of the program, we have been mindful of answering the “What’s in it for me?” question for our associates. We have no interest in this being a way in which only the brand wins at the expense of the time and effort of our faithful and giving associates. We want our associates to win as well. We want to be a more social business inside and out. We want to help our associates mature in their social presence and influence, in their use of social media personally and professionally, growing their networks as a result of participation. We want to help them benefit from participating just as much as we want the brand to benefit. It’s important that we not lose sight of that goal.

Having ongoing open lines of communication among advocates and between the advocates and program leaders is important. To that end we created a private group on our enterprise social network (Buzz) where that ongoing conversation is happening. The group page contains links to the training, the advocates website and already many helpful discussions started and participated in by a host of advocates. Jason and I get immediate notifications about new posts in that group so we can be timely in responding to questions or issues. I started a discussion thread a few days ago so that we can capture in one thread the best pieces of advice participants would want to share with newcomers to the program. Their contributions on day one to that discussion were invaluable and will certainly be incorporated into future training sessions.

So we’re excited about this program! I’m proud to have worked alongside Jason throughout the process, thinking through the details. Jason will be the primary face of the program and the one managing it. As his manager, my role will be to help guide and do all I can to see that he and the advocates are successful. I see the program growing in significance for the company to the point where managing it will surely be a full-time responsibility in itself given the massive opportunities to work with lines of business and the enterprise for various campaigns.

We also look forward to tracking the results and having the opportunity to share our story with others – both in the company and outside – in the months and years to come. We already have a meeting with a major brand a few days from now to discuss the subject and our journey to date. This post is just the first report from the early days following the launch. We have much yet to do and experience and report on, but we’ll keep you posted as it all unfolds. So far, all signs point to an exciting and worthwhile employee advocacy program.

What about you and your company? Do you have an employee advocacy program? Can you share in a comment some insights you’ve gained or questions you have that might spark continued conversation here on the subject?

Top 10 ListIt’s been a while since I updated the page here listing the top 10 most frequently viewed blog posts, so I made those updates today. You’ll find the current top 10 here. What surprises me is that with absolutely no promotion of any kind since September 2013, the #1 post continues to be about my first week wearing a Fitbit Flex way back then. Others also seem to have a life of their own.

Check out the list (also linked at the top of the blog) and see if you’ve read these 10 posts. A lot of your fellow readers have done so.

Blank_bookAs I adjust to the reality that I’ll hit the big 6-0 birthday in a mere 20 months, I can’t help but battle inwardly on what the final chapter of my professional career should look like. I bounce between three possible scenarios:

Continue where I am, doing what I’m doing. Make no mistake about it, I love what I do and the people with whom I get to do it at Humana. To know that I’ve owned and driven our enterprise social network (ESN), Buzz, from its launch in 2010 to the continuing success it is today is a source of great professional satisfaction. Now that I have the incredible Brenda Rick Smith on my team to also work with me, we’re making greater strides than ever in the maturity of the ESN and our management of it. I have said many times that I could be “The Buzz Man” the rest of my career and be quite happy about it. A quick glance through the many articles and public recognition of our Buzz work on the About page of this blog will give you an idea of my passion for it.

Since August of 2014, my role has also included consulting with lines of business about the establishment and community management of other online communities – mostly for target audiences outside the company. I still have a lot to learn and do in this area. I’m nowhere close to where I need to be in my own Jive platform skills used in those communities, and there is much to be done in working with business areas to establish and grow these communities. That’s a good, new challenge for me that I willingly assume and look forward to seeing positive results from down the road.

So my love for what I do, the great people I work with, my belief in our company, the great leadership at the top, and how I’m compensated for what I do all make a decision to remain a perfectly reasonable one. It’s the easy choice and may well be what you should bet on if you’re a betting person.

But there are a couple of points of uneasiness that drive me to wonder about other options:

  1. Continuing rumors about my company being sold to a larger healthcare company. Of course, I’m not an insider and I know nothing about the truth of those rumors. I won’t know until the public and everyone else knows. I hope it doesn’t come to pass, but it’s out of my hands. Worry doesn’t change anything, but I’d be a fool to ignore the possibility and be unprepared for a worst-case scenario of a new parent company doing away with my role. Of course, I could potentially have a role in the combined company, but what kind of role, and would relocation and/or a significant cut in compensation be a condition of continued employment?
  2. Ever since I left full-time Christian ministry in 1985 to move to Louisville to attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, there has been the question of whether I should return at some point to vocational ministry.

Because of the two uncertainties above, I have to consider two other possible ways to write the final chapter of my professional career which may last for another 10 years or so. (After that may be official “retirement” but not of the sit-around-and-do-nothing variety. There are too many important things to be done as a volunteer at church and elsewhere to retire from service until I stop breathing.)

I could seek out a role at another company focused on online communities. With such work potentially being remote these days, a move might even allow me to work from home the majority of the time as opposed to the one day per week I currently work from home. My dog would love that (not sure about my wife). If this option comes to pass, I wouldn’t mind traveling one or two weeks a month to wherever the home office or clients might be. This would be a very attractive option for me.

To be honest, I’d be open to the radical idea of relocating, although that would be extremely hard to do given our family and church ties. I have to admit that after spending a great week in New York City last week, I came away thinking that I could live there. It might be exciting to do something wild and crazy like that for the final chapter of my career, renting out our house in Louisville and coming back to it after the final chapter ends. Don’t put your money on this option if you’re a betting person, but sometimes longshots win. Working for a local company or one that allows me to work primarily from home seems more likely.

Lastly, I can see myself returning to full-time Christian ministry. Spiritual gifts of teaching, preaching, administration and leadership, along with some practical skills gained through the years would equip me to do the work should the right door open. There is a trade off in working at a secular company where you have the opportunity to impact many who are not believers and working in a church environment where the audience and opportunities are very different. There is something very appealing to having the final chapter of my professional life be the matching bookend to the first chapter which saw me serving in a couple of Missouri churches before moving to Louisville. I assumed that my degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and further study at Southern Seminary would be preparation for a life of church or denominational service, but life veered from that while in Louisville in ways that made good sense and for which I have no regrets.

Ultimately, my purpose on earth is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever (see the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s question #1). That can be done in a host of ways and professions and locations – something I have to remind myself of as I ponder the future. There probably is not only one right answer to this multiple-choice future to be decided. In all my fretting of what to do, God is probably thinking, “Just make a choice and go for it! I’m going to be with you wherever you are.” There is great comfort in that and I am thankful to my dear friend Jay Close for saying those words to me many years ago when I faced a similar decision. Serving God isn’t so much about the “where” as it is about the “how” wherever we may be.

And so we wait. Hopefully, my company won’t keep us waiting too long before we know if there is a “Sold” sign on the front door. Keeping over 50,000 employees in limbo about their future isn’t something leadership should want to do for long because of its impact on morale and productivity. A quick answer regardless of what the answer is will be better than limbo.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep doing my best at my work as always. I’ll put out a few feelers with close contacts to test the waters. It’s probably time to polish up the ol’ resume and LinkedIn profile. I’ll hope that nothing drastic changes, that uncertainty subsides, and that I’m able to carry on doing what I love at a great company with great people. I’ll pray that should a change be necessary I’m not victimized by age discrimination from those who would look at one’s age and make horribly incorrect judgments about my interests and abilities. (“He’s old. He probably doesn’t get or understand or like using social media.” Wrong. Duh.)

It isn’t easy deciding how to write the final chapter of one’s career. It’s a time of reflecting on what you’ve written to date, of deciding how satisfied you are with the accomplishments, about what goals are still valid and which ones need to be set aside. I don’t know how the story will end, but I have confidence it will end well because of the One in whose hands it ultimately rests. If He does His part (which He will) and I do my part (which I’m trying), it’s going to turn out just fine.

Stay tuned.

Brenda Rick Smith

Brenda Rick Smith

Note from Jeff: One of the smartest things a manager can do is hire great people and then get out of their way. With that in mind, I am thrilled to have Brenda Rick Smith as a new colleague on my team at Humana to serve with me as a community manager for our enterprise social network, Buzz. To say that I am thrilled to have her is an understatement. Her expertise, work ethic, communication skills, insights and humor make her a great addition to an already fantastic team. It is, therefore, with joy and gratitude that I am pleased to share this space for a guest post from her on what she learned in her first month with us at Humana. You’ll want to follow Brenda on Twitter at @brendaricksmith.

Here’s Brenda…

On March 2, 2015, I started my dream job. I became a community manager for Buzz, the social network for Humana employees, under the leadership of Jeff Ross.

Here are three things I’ve learned in my first few weeks on the job:

People crave community. There’s no getting around it – humans are social creatures. We are built to seek the comfort, wisdom, joy, drama and myriad other things that come from interacting with our fellow human beings.

Buzz has hundreds of groups covering just about every conceivable topic and interest. People pop in to ask questions (Should I upgrade to the new chat/conference software? How do I set up an email persona?), solve problems (Why is my pedometer not recording my steps properly?), get advice (What kind of wearable fitness tracker should I buy?), share victories (Here’s a before and after picture of me. I lost 100 lbs!) and seek support (Do we have a support group for coping with sickle cell anemia?)

I love watching people connect with each other. Buzzers freely offer advice and help. They are quick to praise and celebrate. For each message and comment, a need is met. For some, it’s the need to be heard and validated, and for others, it’s the need to be helpful. For everyone, these connections are a reminder that we aren’t left all on our own, but we can depend on each other.

Never underestimate the power of good documentation. When I arrived, Jeff presented to me a document that detailed daily, weekly and occasional tasks. With that document in hand, I could quickly master the basics of my job. When I had a question, I could refer back to the document and get it answered.

That simple document empowered me. I didn’t have to be dependent of Jeff for every single bit of information. It reduced the number of awkward “Wait…tell me how I’m supposed to do this again?” conversations we had to have. It set me up to have early successes, too. I felt good about myself and my new role when I was able to come in on day two and actually perform some meaningful work, thanks to the documentation.

Because I didn’t have to struggle with learning all these new basic processes, I’ve been able to get my feet on the ground and tackle other bigger projects pretty quickly. My mental resources haven’t been drained by these basic tasks.

The lesson here for leaders is simple: as much as possible, document what it is that you do. Jeff launched Buzz, and has grown and managed it solo for five years. I’m sure it’s been tempting for him to put off documenting his regular tasks because it takes so much time – a resource that’s been in short supply for him. But by taking the time to document what he was doing, he made it possible to share his load. That’s an investment that will pay off for Jeff, for me, and for Buzz in the long run.

Community takes courage. My first few days on the job, I was surprised at just how much I saw people sharing. Why would people share so much – personally and professionally – on an enterprise social network? I quickly came to the conclusion that people share so much because they trust their colleagues, and they trust this organization. They feel safe.

It also takes courage and maturity for an organization to truly embrace community. Associates might say things that are uncomfortable to hear. They might voice truths unartfully. They might even voice untruths.

But the reality is those things are going to get said anyway, whether it is in an online community, in an email, or in a water cooler conversation. Isn’t it better to have those conversations in the open, where others can benefit from the discussion?

It speaks volumes to me that Humana is willing to provide this type of platform for engagement, and that so many Humana associates embrace it.

I’m delighted to be part of this team and this organization. And most of all, I’m thrilled to play a small part in shaping a 42,000-member community.